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Friday, 18 July 2014

Lib Dems’ bedroom tax u-turn is ‘too little, too late’

The Liberal Democrat's decision to question the fairness and effectiveness of the bedroom tax (under occupancy penalty) comes "too late for many poor and vulnerable people" says the Green Party, which has been wholly opposed to the Coalition’s destructive tax since it was first floated.

Writing in The Daily Mirror, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander argues that the government's benefits reforms were working but said that the Lib Dems wanted to see "fairer rules" applied to the bedroom tax, adding that "it's time to change our approach in this particular area." The Lib Dems voted for the 'bedroom tax' and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has repeatedly defended the changes to Housing Benefit.

Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said: "That the Liberal Democrat leadership should have suddenly discovered the huge damage the bedroom tax is doing to vulnerable households is perhaps not surprising in light of the proximity to the General Election.

"But 'too little too late' is the phrase that comes to mind: Mr Clegg says he's now seen 'evidence' of the damage done by the bedroom tax, but there was clear evidence from the time of its proposal that it would hit the poor and disabled extremely hard, and that they would have no options to escape from it.

"The government of which Mr Clegg is a part has forced the poor and disadvantaged to pay for the fraud, mistakes and risk-taking of the bankers. I'm proud that the Green-run Brighton and Hove council has "no evictions as a result of the bedroom tax" policy, and that other Green councillors around the country have pushed for the same."

The latest General Election 2015 polling from IpsosMori has the Greens and Liberal Democrats neck-and-neck on 8%.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Lib Dems promise law to 'lift the lid' on gender pay gap

Large companies will be legally required to publish the difference between what they pay men and women under manifesto plans set out by the Liberal Democrats today. The plan would see companies employing over 250 people required by law to publish the average pay of their male and female employees - creating pressure from staff and customers to account for and close any gap that exists.

The plan was announced by Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Minister for Women and Equalities Jo Swinson and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable.

The Liberal Democrats will put into force Section 78 of the Equalities Act, which was drafted but not implemented by the previous Labour Government. The Coalition Government has encouraged leading employers to publish pay gap information on a voluntary basis but the Liberal Democrats believe that it is time to go further. The Liberal Democrats are the first major party to commit to enforcing gender pay transparency by law.

Commenting, Nick Clegg said: "Forty years after the Equal Pay Act was passed it is utterly unacceptable that women are not being equally rewarded in the workplace - with women paid, on average, 20% less than men. Real equality means fair pay. It's time to accept that the voluntary approach does not go far or fast enough. We need to lift the lid on what big companies pay the men and women they employ, with that information there for every employee and customer to see."

Jo Swinson added: "The Liberal Democrats have fought for shared parental leave, extra childcare, a new right to request flexible working, and we are determined to tackle the issue of gender pay. If women in the workplace are to have the same opportunities and choices as men, they must be properly rewarded for their talents and skills - it's as simple as that."

Vince Cable commenting said: "We're consulting with business to make sure we get the detail right, but ultimately this is a good step for our companies. We've already seen some of our biggest firms lead the way on publishing pay gap information. They know that their staff will appreciate real openness about the way men and women are paid and real effort to close any gap that exists."

Labour claim that summer childcare costs soar by £100 per child under David Cameron

New analysis carried out by the Labour Party shows, they claim, that under David Cameron the cost of childcare during the summer holidays has spiralled by 16 per cent - four times faster than wages. Labour say this means that parents facing a cost-of-living crisis will have to fork out an additional £100 per child for their summer childcare, compared to 2010.

Labour also say that alongside soaring costs, the availability of holiday childcare has nearly halved – now just 27 per cent of councils have enough holiday childcare for parents who work full-time compared to 49 per cent in 2009.

Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children, 
Lucy Powell, commented: “Under David Cameron childcare costs are soaring and the availability of childcare is plummeting, causing a summer of misery for many parents trying to balance work and family life in the holidays. But while families facing a cost-of-living crisis come under more and more pressure, this Government has no plan to support families struggling with their childcare before the next election. Parents always tell me that the summer holidays present a big challenge yet the government has pulled the rug from under much of the provision which previously existed."

Commenting on what the Labour party have put forward an alternative, Ms Powell said: “Labour’s vision for childcare will make work pay and boost the economy. Our pledge to increase free childcare for working parents with three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week worth £1500 per child – will be a real boost to parents struggling to pay for childcare throughout the year.”

Clegg gives UK aerospace projects a £154m boost

The Deputy Prime Minister, and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg is today announcing a £154 million investment in research projects to keep the UK as a world leader in aerospace innovation. The investment will be used in four areas - which the UK excels in - wings, engines, aircraft structures and radio communications.

This funding is part of a £2 billion government and industry investment in researching and development for the next generation of quieter, faster and more environmentally friendly planes. It will help to secure more than 100,000 skilled jobs in aerospace and its supply chain in the long term, in a market expected to be worth over £4 trillion over the next 30 years.

Commenting Nick Clegg said: “The UK’s aerospace industry is going from strength to strength and helping our economic recovery. We are the number one aerospace industry in Europe and second only to the United States globally. I want to ensure the UK remains at the cutting edge of aerospace innovation, which is why I am pleased to announce that we are investing £154 million for research to explore new technologies like the 3D printing of plane parts and creating lighter, greener aircraft. By working in partnership with business, we are building a stronger, more balanced economy, creating more jobs and sharing the wealth equally

Lib Dems commit to spare room subsidy reform

The Liberal Democrats have said they plan to significantly reform spare room subsidy rules. The plans will see those already in the social rented sector only lose their benefit if they are offered a suitable smaller home and turn it down. It would also permanently exempt disabled adults.

It comes after a government report published this week showed changes to how housing benefit is paid are not delivering the outcomes we had hoped despite Discretionary Housing Payments

Commenting Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander said: “As a Liberal Democrat I want everyone to have the opportunity to have a secure and decent home. We brought in changes to how housing benefit is calculated in the social housing sector with the best of intentions. “However, a recent report shows people are having to cut back on household essentials despite the help offered through Discretionary Housing Payments."

"Therefore, we have reviewed our position so only those already in the social rented sector who turn down suitable smaller homes will see a reduction in their benefit. These commitments will be in the Lib Dem manifesto and we will push for it as government policy right away. This change, combined with a commitment to build 300,000 houses a year in the next Parliament, will build on the progress we have already made to address Britain’s housing problem.”

Responding to the news the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, said: "This is unbelievable hypocrisy from Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems voted for the bedroom tax. There wouldn’t be a bedroom tax if it wasn’t for the Lib Dems. And in February when Labour tabled a bill to scrap the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems were nowhere to be seen. This just goes to show why you can’t trust a word the Lib Dems say - it is clear the only way to cancel the bedroom tax is to elect a Labour government next year."

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Harman writes to Cameron about his claims at PMQs

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman , has this afternoon written to the Prime MInister, David Cameron, over claims he made, over Ms Harman's appearance on LBC yesterday, at Prime Minister's Questions, today:
Dear Prime Minister, 
You claimed at Prime Minister's Questions today that "yesterday Labour announced - in an important announcement - that it is now their policy to put up taxes on middle income people". This is not true. It is a lie 
In fact, as you surely know, since your own party circulated a transcript later, I had made a straightforward defence of our system of progressive taxation - the idea that people on higher incomes should - and do - pay more in tax overall than people on lower incomes. The full quote is here: 
"But I would say Henry one of the things that I would argue that might, should probably make a really big difference to you is having a really good health service. Because you don't want to have to pay for health insurance. You don't want to have to pay to go pr ivate to get really good healthcare system. And I think that is not just for working class people it's for middle class people as well. And the same with education, you know, really good school system that helps people from lower income families and middle income families as well so I think that actually the idea that there are some things that help people on low incomes and other that help people on middle incomes. Yes I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes. But actually they need those public services like the transport system."
Harriet Harman, LBC, 14 July 2014 
It is utterly clear that this is not a call for higher taxes, but a defence of a system which has previously commanded wide support, in which people on middle incomes contribute more than people on lower incomes. 
While the principle of progressive taxation has been undermined in recent years, by your Government's decision to raise VAT and to cut the top rate of tax for the highest earners, even you had not seriously questioned it until today. 
Our politics, and the quality of public debate, requires that all participants, however much they may disagree, take part in good faith. 
Yours sincerely,

Harriet Harman MP
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Monday, 14 July 2014

Labour table amendments to Data Retention Investigatory Powers Bill

Labour will use the passage of the Data Retention Investigatory Powers Bill to call for a wider debate on the balance between liberty and security. The Labour party have tabled two amendments to strengthen the checks and balances within the temporary legislation:

1) The first amendment will ensure the review of RIPA that the Government has agreed to is included in the Bill

2) The second amendment will ensure the Intercept Commissioner publishes 6 monthly reports on the operation of the Bill

The Shadow Home Secretary called for the Government to establish a review of surveillance in a speech in March, with view to instigating a wider debate on the balance between privacy and security in a new digital age. The Labour Party secured the review of RIPA in the negotiations with the Government before the temporary legislation was announced. The amendment is intended to ensure the review looks at the wider issues around keeping the public safe online.

In the United States, President Obama commissioned an independent review of surveillance, and has set out areas for reform to protect US citizens’ privacy and civil liberties, whilst also robustly defending the purpose and work of the security and intelligence agencies. The public debate in the US is fully underway. Yet in the UK, it has barely got off the ground. That is why the Labour Party is tabling amendments to the legislation to ensure this public debate takes place.

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary said: "We are tabling amendments to put extra safeguards in place, whilst making sure the police don't lose vital information they need suddenly this summer. The Government should not have left this legislation until the last minute before the summer. And they should have engaged much earlier in a serious public debate about what powers should be available to the police and security services and what safeguards are needed for privacy - as President Obama has done in the US since the Snowdon leaks last year. By ducking the debate and leaving things to the last minute they are undermining trust."

Continuing Ms Cooper said: "We agree that legislation is needed to make sure that the police and security services don't lose existing access under warrant to information they need to fight crime and keep our country safe. This data is used to stop child abuse online, to prove and disprove alibis and to prevent terrorist plots. These powers must not just disappear this summer – that is why we are supporting the legislation. But proper safeguards are needed. There must be sufficient checks and balances on how this temporary legislation is implemented. That is why we have put forward another amendment, on top of the restrictions already secured, to ensure the Intercept Commissioner publishes reports on the operation of the Bill every 6 months, until it expires in 2016. The Government has made clear that the Bill is to maintain existing capacity not to extend it, and this is an added safeguard to make sure that is the case.

Concluding Yvette Cooper Commented: "And we also need longer term reform. This legislation is just a temporary sticking plaster. The legal and oversight framework are now out of date as a result of new technology. We have called for stronger oversight and a major review of RIPA for some time. That is why we are putting down an amendment to put the independent review of the legal and operational framework on a statutory footing. It is welcome the Government have agreed to our RIPA review, but we also believe it would build confidence to underpin it in law. The police and intelligence agencies do vital work to keep us safe. But confidence in their work needs to be maintained, and that means we need a proper debate about how privacy can also be protected, and what powers, checks and balances are needed in the internet age. This temporary legislation must be not be the end of the debate about online security and liberty. It must be the beginning.”